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Felton James Earls

Dr. Felton James “Tony” Earls is a professor of social medicine at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Human Behavior and Development at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is noted for his pioneering research on violent crime reduction in urban neighborhoods, the causes and pathways of juvenile delinquency, the consequences of children’s exposure to community and family violence and the psychological impacts of HIV/AIDS pandemic on children in sub-Saharan Africa.

Earls was born in January 1942 in New Orleans, Louisiana – the oldest of four born to Ethlyn and Felton Earls II. In 1953, his family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where his father worked for the U.S. Postal Service, and where Earls graduated from Booker T. Washington High School.

A 1963 graduate of Howard University with a degree in chemistry – four years later, Earls received a medical degree from Howard University School of Medicine. Being interested in the science of medicine rather than caring for sick people, he pursued post-graduate training in neurophysiology at the University of Wisconsin.

Earls left Wisconsin to do a residency in pediatrics at New York Medical College. He went on to study adult psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and child psychiatry at the Hospital for Sick Children in London. He joined the faculty of Harvard Medical School in 1974, became Professor of Child Psychiatry and Director of the Division of Child Psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis in 1981 and returned to Harvard University in 1989.

Earls’ Chicago research project, “The Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods,” funded by the National Institute for Mental Health and the MacArthur Foundation, is perhaps his signature work – a ten year, $51 million study. It was a large-scale epidemiological project examining causes and consequences of children’s exposure to community and family violence. Earls and his team of researchers studied the physical health, educational and occupational achievement, and the social relationships of children from birth to adulthood. He gave detailed attention to the social and physical characteristics of the neighborhoods in which they lived and the schools they attended. The project represents one of the largest and most comprehensive (over 8,000 people in 343 Chicago neighborhoods) of child and youth development ever undertaken. Theories drawn from his finding derailed older theories of community violence and crime. His “collective efficacy” theory puts emphasis on a practice of having neighborhood residents solving the problems of crime, violence and substance abuse. In another project in Tanzania, East Africa, Earls used his Chicago study methods to analyze the role of community attitudes and perceptions about HIV/AIDS and its impact on children.

Earls is the Director of the Harvard South Africa Fellowship Program at Harvard University, established to address the needs of South Africans denied access to advanced education by apartheid. Another major and significant activity in his life is serving on the Board of Directors of Physicians for Human Rights at the National Academy of Sciences.

Earls met Mary Carlson, who was studying neurophysiology at the University of Wisconsin when he was doing the same. They were married in Boston in 1971 and are the parents of two daughters, Leigh, born in 1967, and Tanya, born in 1974.

Earls has been devoted to scientific research with a commitment to social change in the spirit and memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Accession Number

A2005.259

Sex

Male

Interview Date

12/9/2005

Last Name

Earls

Maker Category
Middle Name

James

Schools

Booker T. Washington High School

Howard University College of Medicine

John McDonogh No. 6 School

Samuel J. Green Junior High School

Howard University

First Name

Felton

Birth City, State, Country

New Orleans

HM ID

EAR03

Favorite Season

None

State

Louisiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Massachusetts

Birth Date

1/20/1942

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Boston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Medical professor and public health professor Felton James Earls (1942 - ) is a professor of social medicine at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Human Behavior and Development at the Harvard School of Public Health. Earls’ Chicago research project, “The Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods,” led to theories that derailed older ones of community violence and crime.

Employment

Washington University in St. Louis

Harvard Medical School

Harvard School of Public Health

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Felton James Earls' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Felton James Earls describes his maternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Felton James Earls describes his maternal grandfather's work and his mother's education

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Felton James Earls describes his maternal grandmother, his mother and his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Felton James Earls describes his father's side of the family

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Felton James Earls describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Felton James Earls describes his early educational experiences

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Felton James Earls recalls his teachers in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Felton James Earls recalls segregation in New Orleans and his early interest in science

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Felton James Earls remembers moving from New Orleans to Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Felton James Earls remembers applying to college

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Felton James Earls describes his time at Howard University

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Felton James Earls remembers applying for and attending medical school

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Felton James Earls remembers William Montague Cobb

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Felton James Earls recalls his laboratory work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Felton James Earls recalls Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Felton James Earls describes his impression of Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Felton James Earls describes his wife and his two daughters

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Felton James Earls describes his work and research in London, England

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Felton James Earls describes his research in Boston and on Martha's Vineyard

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Felton James Earls recalls his time at the Washington University in St. Louis

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Felton James Earls describes his return to Boston, Massachusetts in 1989

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Felton James Earls describes the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Felton James Earls describes the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Felton James Earls describes the impact of his study on public policy

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Felton James Earls defines collective efficacy

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Felton James Earls describes his research on collective efficacy and HIV/AIDS

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Felton James Earls describes his involvement in the Anti-Apartheid Movement

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Felton James Earls describes his musical interests

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Felton James Earls describes his hero, Charles Darwin, and his aspirations

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Felton James Earls reflects upon his life

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Felton James Earls describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Felton James Earls describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Felton James Earls narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

5$5

DATitle
Felton James Earls remembers William Montague Cobb
Felton James Earls describes the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, pt. 1
Transcript
How do you remember Dr. Cobb [William Montague Cobb], he was a friend and he was a friend and colleague of mine. I knew him well (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Oh, now, now, well--$$How do you remember him?$$Well, I remember him as an actor more than an anatomy teacher. And one of the reasons that the class didn't believe him--you see what happened is that the messenger ran down the steps and gave Cobb a, a message, you know, just to read and Cobb, you know, and Cobb did one of these, you know, Shakespearean poses and we said, here he goes again, you know, he's about to break into some, you know, soliloquy from 'Hamlet' or something like that to teach us some anatomy lesson, so when he announced to the class that it, John Kennedy [President John Fitzgerald Kennedy] had been assassinated, our first reaction was that, damn, he's gone too far. I mean this (laughter)--what play did this come from, you know. But that's--I mean, I remember this guy teaching anatomy in a way that was way up here, you know; that it was so eloquent and penetrating and thoughtful. Let me just give you one rhyme that he would say: he would say, "Why does a polar bear sit on a cake of ice?" Now, that, that forever, forever teaches a medical student that spermatogenesis occurs at somewhat lower temperature than body temperature, which is why one has descended testes. And he would just do that all the time, you know (laughter), teaching you very important principles through metaphors, through soliloquies, through--he played the violin in class at times, what a wonderful teacher.$$Oh, he was a beautiful man, interesting man.$Let's talk about your major current research, the Chicago [Illinois] project [Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods]. We'll talk some of the other research activities, but let's talk about that one.$$Well, it was a major event, you know, that I got involved in this research, I mean, partly because I was an accomplished scientist. There was a concern in the late '80s [1980s] and early '90s [1990s] that crime and violence in particular, were out of control, too many homicides, the crack cocaine epidemic was driving a lot of this, and that people started talking, people in criminal justice system, police and parole officers, and that sort of thing, started talking about tough kids unlike they had ever seen before. And, and the term super predator cropped up as a label, you know, on the kinds of crimes and the kinds of people, usually young black men who were committing these crimes. So I decided I wanted to get into this, you know, because that's not the way I saw it and I, I wanted to get into this mix, and an incredible opportunity arose, partly because of my connections at Washington University [Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri] to, to do what would be a landmark study that the justice department [U.S. Department of Justice] and the MacArthur Foundation [John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation] and the National Institute of Mental Health combined interest and said, we would like to find the most outstanding scientist--social scientist in the United States or the world for that matter, to conduct a study someplace in the United States that would set it right, you know, to say what really are the contributions of individuals, families and, and communities to this problem that we have, so that ten years from now we would be in a position to have knowledge, not just opinions about what causes violence and how to address it. So from 1989 really, to now, gradually over a period of time I organized groups of scientists, chose to work in Chicago after moving around the whole United States and thinking about, you know, Baltimore [Maryland] and Philadelphia [Pennsylvania] and Los Angeles [California] and whatever, and from '94 [1994] to 2002 we did a landmark study.$$In Chicago?$$In Chicago.$$Why Chicago and not Boston [Massachusetts]?$$Well, Chicago is big and as a city it represents so many crucial elements of American society. It's--it's got a large black population that is organized at the neighborhood level in terms of income. So you have wealthy black neighborhoods as well as lots of poor black neighborhoods. You have lots of immigrants from Mexico. You have Puerto Rican neighborhoods. In fact, it's the only city in the United States that has both Mexican and Puerto Rican neighborhoods, at least that was the case when we started. And it has whites who represent various stages of immigration to America, from Germans and Polish, to Italian and so forth. So, Chicago is America and in a sense we really wanted to dig in and understand one place, rather than doing a national study and trying to study the--every place. Chicago was sort of paradigmatic of what America is, what it's been and what it's becoming. And, and the--that demographic picture of Chicago has served us very well. In other words, I think, we think we made the right decision by going to Chicago.